There is turmoil and controversy in the always volatile sugar-cane industry as farmers head into the New Year.
At a meeting of the BSCFA on Tuesday, a majority of Directors made the decision to call a general meeting of canefarmers on Sunday. At the same time, former BSCFA Director, Lucilo Teck has filed an application for an interim injunction prohibiting the BSCFA from signing an agreement with the Belize Sugar Industries Ltd.
The court has set a hearing date for Friday, January 2, 2015. Teck has also sought an application for an Order of Mandamus to force the Sugar Industry Control Board to declare a date for start-up of grinding season.
In a release issued late Tuesday evening, the Government of Belize condemned the intervention of the NTUCB and the Rod of Correction lobbying group (ROC), claiming that “these organizations seem determined to prevent a crop, derail the sugar industry and cause the destruction of the livelihoods of the very farmers they say they support.”
GOB has urged canefarmers to ratify a resolution to sign on to an agreement with ASR/BSI when they meet on Sunday.
The BSCFA leadership is clearly split into two camps. One camp, led by Chairman, Ezequiel Cansino, is determined to sign the agreement as soon as possible. In fact, it is expected that signing would have taken place on Tuesday.
But BSCFA by-laws state that directors from three or more branches can call for a meeting of the general assembly. On Tuesday, a majority of directors filed a petition to call that meeting for Sunday.
On December 14th, 2014 farmers voted to sign the agreement with ASR/BSI. But a second group within the BSCFA claims that farmers were not told the whole story, and the agreement was not presented to them in sufficient detail. It is that group which has pushed for the meeting on Sunday, at which it is expected that the agreement will be ventilated in full.
In the meantime, canefarmer, Lucilo Teck has applied for an injunction to derail any signing agreement, and a date, Friday, January 2 has been set for a hearing. That injunction, if granted, will effectively roadblock any signing of the agreement by the BSCFA until the matter is presented clearly to canefarmers.
Although the decision has been made to go to the AGM on Sunday, the injunction hearing will be held on Friday.
On Tuesday Lucilo Teck told The Reporter that “the injunction was sought to allow farmers time to understand what they are signing. If they are informed properly on Sunday and still agree to sign on, then democracy must prevail.”
Teck and his attorney, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, are also hoping that an application for an Order of Mandamus will also be heard on Friday. That order seeks to force the Sugar Industry Control Board to declare a date for start up of the grinding season. That, Matura-Shepherd insists, is the Sugar Industry Control Board’s obligation in view of the impasse.
In its release on Tuesday, GOB sought to clarify its position on the SICB, saying it would be “unthinkable in a democracy based on the rule of law, respect for private property and the rights of investors, for any arm of the state to seek to use compulsion against any party to a private sector commercial dispute”.
For the avoidance of any doubt, GOB declared that it would “uphold the proper mandate of the Sugar Industry Act, and will not countenance any resort to illegal, unilateralism or strong-arm tactics”.
With so many spoons in the pot, it is not clear what lies ahead for the sugar industry. While all parties have claimed that it is imperative for the crop to start sooner than later,, only the cane farmers can give a clear, unequivocal answer to that.